Will Nikola Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Trucks Live up to the Hype?

By August 15, 2023 4   min read  (637 words)

August 15, 2023 |

Nikola Tre FCEV IAA 2022 DSC05829

The trucking industry is shifting gears, with many companies slowly phasing out diesel and embracing fuel-cell and electric power. Nikola Corp. unveiled several vehicle concepts between 2016 to 2020 — including battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks — with the promise of producing zero-emission big rigs.

Then its CEO was indicted for fraud. Is Nikola nothing more than a high-octane con?

Taking the High Road

When Trevor Milton arrived for his 2022 trial, he looked polished with his royal blue suit and closely cropped gray hair. The wealthy CEO of Nikola faced accusations that his company was an intricate fraud, including claims it had produced doctored videos of its trucks and slapped its logo on a General Motors vehicle. Milton had also allegedly boasted about nonexistent technology to artificially inflate Nikola’s stock prices.

His lawyer argued otherwise — Milton was just overenthusiastic, a visionary who saw past technical hurdles and wanted nothing more than to make emission-free trucking possible. He wasn’t exaggerating, lawyer Marc Mukasey urged, but merely excited about his product.

The judge did not buy it. A federal jury found Milton guilty of defrauding investors, convicting him of one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud. When Nikola’s shares peaked in 2020, Milton had spent over $80 million on a Gulfstream jet and luxury mansion in Turks and Caicos. Nikola still had not produced any actual trucks or even the green hydrogen fuel it claimed to manufacture — Milton was rich from hype alone.

The Jig Is Up

After the trial and a string of assault accusations against Milton, Nikola’s stock plummeted. As with other hydrogen startups, investors had been hopeful about the benefits of the up-and-coming technology — renewability, no greenhouse gas emissions and vastly less time spent at the pump than at an EV charging station.

Milton’s claims about producing hydrogen at $3 a kilogram were little more than hot air. However, as it turns out, Nikola’s screeching halt in the stock market was not the end of the road for the company.

The Rebound

The concept of hydrogen fuel-cell trucks is more than just hype. Several automakers are hard at work on emission-free 18-wheelers, with Nikola, still licking its wounds, among them. The company officially rolled out its hydrogen fuel-cell electric truck in July 2023, and former CEO Michael Lohscheller — now replaced by Steve Girsky — said Nikola has turned a corner.

As demand for the company’s new Class 8 vehicle exceeded 200 orders this year, stock market prices surged. The truck purportedly features a range of up to 500 miles, among the longest of all zero-emission Class 8s. Additionally, customers who buy the semi-truck can receive a $40,000 clean commercial vehicle tax credit through the Inflation Reduction Act. There may be hope yet for the battle-scarred startup.

The Long Haul

Hydrogen vehicles are here to stay. The technology promises zero emissions, offers fast fueling and gives 18-wheelers the power they need to cover long distances with a heavy load. In the coming years, fuel-cell trucks may even replace diesel entirely.

Trevor Milton quietly deleted social media and retreated to the shadows of his riverside mansion on a $100 million bond. As it turns out, trucks cannot run on smoke and mirrors — but they can, and will, run on hydrogen.



About the Author
Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh, Contributor

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Jane covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, green technology, renewable energy and more.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.



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